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Warm and musical

A Review On: JDS Labs ODAC

JDS Labs ODAC

Rated # 9 in DACs
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $150.00
tdockweiler
Posted · 11941 Views · 20 Comments

Pros: not excessively revealing, smooth treble

Cons: it's not huge and doesn't weigh 100lbs. it's too small. Can't possibly sound good being so small.

NOTES: SKIP THIS FIRST PART

I had a heck of a time getting this to sound right. It made me aware of nearly THREE problems with my setup. Not even kidding. My desktop computer's rear USB port does not work with this. A powered USB hub is required. Next for some strange reason I have to use high gain on my Q701 with this dac and my Headroom Micro Amp. With 8% volume. If not, the Q701 is too fatiguing. This never occurred with my HRT MSII. On that, Medium was fine.

 

I'll keep this short (EDIT: whoops guess not). First impressions of this over my HRT MSII is that it sounds much more balanced. Yet strangely any of my garbage tracks suddenly don't sound so bad. It seems to take the edge off them. Why? I have no idea. On 5 of my CD players these same tracks are just awful and much worse. Way more fatiguing. I'm listening to a song right now that was unbearably bad on my HRT MSII and CD players and now it's quite listenable...even on the Q701. You could say those 5 players are just more revealing or colored, but that's unlikely to be true.

 

The idea that this makes the Q701 sound less warm or more revealing or analytical is nonsense. With my Q701 I still retained it's warm and full sound. If anything, it's treble is even more smooth and easier on the ears. The Q701 now sounds closer to neutral than before. I would say in comparison the HRT was a tad warmer, but only slightly. Again, it doesn't make the Q701 any leaner in the mids or anything like that. This is really the best i've ever heard the Q701.

 

I find the ODAC gave the Q701 a slightly larger soundstage with better imaging, but the difference isn't huge. I was actually confused with the difference in imaging. My X-Fi Go Pro does seem to give the Q701 a slightly larger soundstage than the ODAC. Don't really care though.

 

I actually find this DAC very musical and smooth sounding. Maybe it's the headphones and music too. All my garbage tracks are not put under the microscope at all. They sounded much worse on the HRT MSII. I actually think that thing might be more revealing of bad recordings.

 

I've not had this thing magically change any of my headphones in major ways. Generally they sound just like they should, but even better in many areas.

 

The biggest improvement in sound was with my $80 Koss Pro DJ100. Mostly improved soundstage size and better bass. Not more bass, but just better bass. I didn't even think that was possible since i've never heard the bass as good on any other DAC. I did experience a bit more detail with the DJ100, but I didn't feel ever that anything was being shoved in my face.

 

One reason I sold my HRT MSII is that I didn't like it with my HD-598 and HD-580. I just have weird preferences I guess. At first I blamed my amp, but i've found it's more transparent than I had originally thought. Less colored than the HRT MSII (which is still fairly neutral). The ODAC is really so much better IMO with my two Sennheiser headphones. It doesn't make them warmer or give them any extra bass. I think if I ever tried the HD-650 again, this is the DAC which would make me like it even more.

 

BTW it's general "signature" is close to my onboard sound, Sansa Clip+ and X-Fi Go Pro DAC. Obviously this is a huge upgrade, but all of them sound pretty flat to me. Blind A/B test would be stupid easy though.

 

SCIENCE GUYS IGNORE THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH:

 

I could never ever hear a difference in DIY (cheap) cables until I got my HRT MSII. It was stupid easy to tell the difference (less so with interconnect cables). Nothing major. With this I can't hear an ounce of difference. Only if the cable is a very high capacitance wire (such as Canare). My guess is that the ODAC is just no super duper revealing detail monster like the HRT. No idea here. I'm perfectly happy with my $1 Monoprice cables. Consider this a bonus. I can't really figure this one out (for myself).

 

 

Now that i've found a budget amp that plays well with EVERY headphone i've ever tried, I think i've finally found the DAC to go with it. I don't know why, but every single popular amp or DAC on Head-Fi i've tried has had some weird coloration to it or only sounds best with specific headphones. I hate that. Maybe I just have very bad luck. I'd also prefer to not feel the need to buy a DAC/amp every year and would rather spend that on headphones or new music.

 

BTW I think maybe this has very slightly rolled off highs. Probably not, but I guess it's possible. Not like the E10 though...this seems far more balanced than the E10. E10 didn't sound neutral, yet measures flat. Strange.

 

 

10/17/12 UPDATE:

 

I've now been using this since 8/20. Never imagined it'd be such a nice upgrade from my HRT MSII, but it is. Unlike the HRT, this thing (like my amp) plays well with every headphone. Sounds equally good with every single thing.

 

Lately I did notice that it's even less warm sounding than my Clip+. I took my KRK KNS-8400 downstairs to my main setup and it just wasn't the same, but still good. Yeah..I just called the Clip+ warm sounding!

 

I'd say my favorite headphone with the ODAC is the Q701.

 

For the record, I still don't find the ODAC excessively detailed or too analytical. Detail level is just where it should be. The HRT did seem to be more detailed. Why? Not sure. Maybe it's just due to a little more coloration and my brain being fooled. Who knows..

 

With this ODAC, my Q701 sounds as smooth as the HD-598. Nothing in it's frequency jumping out at me too much. Not thin or analytical, but quite musical.

 

 

20 Comments:

That perceived "harshness" with the other DACs despite them sounding warmer is simply distortion.
An honest and subjective review.
Remember as far as objective data is concerned, this DAC is supposed to sound IDENTICAL to the SanDisk Clip+, so I'll take your word over theirs even if it looks like you got carried away with the revealing-ness.
"this DAC is supposed to sound IDENTICAL to the SanDisk Clip+"
Correction, it's supposed to sound identical to the Clip+, according to kiteki. In fact, this is the first (and only) time I've heard this comparison made. :p
It's just so bizarre that this harshness in bad tracks occurs on now 5 (good) cd players, several amps and 2 other computer DACs. On nearly all my headphones. This review is basically all over the place, so sorry about that. It's nearly impossible to write a review on a DAC that basically is supposed to NOT have it's own signature. I guess I can only compare it to what else i've heard.
What I will do is rip these harsh tracks to FLAC and try them on my clip+. I bet they'll sound similar to the ODAC when it comes to it's flat sound signature. Obviously the ODAC is like a clip+ on steroids and has a larger soundstage etc. Clip+ might even be warmer (sounding). The treble on the ODAC just seems smoother than everything else i've ever heard. Not a complaint. IMO all these DACs that measure perfectly flat never sound the same. Technically the E10 should sound similar to the ODAC right? This hasn't been the case.
Good review , well done nwavguy :)
There's a whole lot more than FR to determine how a dac will sound. Read up on it.
^ yeah, I know. It's just too bad most people think that if a DAC measures flat they're all "technically" sounding the same. I read once you can't tell the difference between the E10 and the ODAC in a blind test. Such nonsense.
Dude I meant measurements, Distortion, phase,channel balance, noise floor, output level (volts), all can be measured and can make a potentially huge difference in sound, especially distortion, The ODAC measures much better in every aspect to the E10, they obviously won't sound the same, but if they did measure almost the same as each other (which they don't) then they would be indistinguishable.
When you mentioned that they measure "flat" you're referring only to the frequency response, that's what I meant when I said there's alot more to it.
you know, i've read an awful lot about how well the odac (and o2 for that matter) synergize with sennhieser cans. You just seem to be reiterating that fact. And just out of curiousity what is this "budget amp" you speak of? B/c if it plays well with everything i wanna piece of that action.
wiinippongamer, even considering distortion, phase, channel balance, noise floor, output level (into an amp), this DAC is supposed to sound the same as the Clip+, according to the designer, since the Clip+ has supposedly already surpassed the audibile limits within all of those parameters.
p.s. you missed square wave response and impulse response. It's true that's not visibile in a flat FR, for example the Fiio E6 may measure flat in FR, but it can't create a nice square-wave, and it's noisy, so you're right there.
Nothing personal against you, kiteki, and I honestly mean that, but I can't say I agree that the ODAC is "supposed to sound the same as the Clip+, according to the designer," not unless it's spoken (written) straight from the horse's (designers) mouth, which I've yet to see. Being that I own both, the LAST impression I want to put on someone is that the two sound the same. Anyhow, carry on... :)
It IS from the horses mouth that they are equally transparent (via dScope data) = they sound the same. You misread "supposed to".
I haven't compared them myself, just sayin'.
you know what the sound of the ODAC really reminds me of? The old PS1 SCPH-1001 (one with RCA jacks). No joke. You know all those harsh/fatiguing tracks I heard on 5 of my CD players and some computer DACs? Well, they're not so bad on the SCPH-1001, just like the ODAC. The 1001 is also no detail monster and kind of warm sounding. I guess they call it "musical" but very accurate. Maybe it's no lie that the PS1 really IS actually as good as they say.
I don't believe in this thing about ODAC having the best synergy with the Sennheisers. Sounds equally as good with everything. The amp i'm talking about is the Headroom Micro Amp. Regular desktop amp and i've yet to try anything it doesn't work well with (unlike my old Asgard). It's a perfect match for the ODAC. I'm now convinced it's pretty transparent and has no coloration of it's own (that I can hear). I'll compare it to the O2 just to know for sure since i'm looking for an E9 replacement. Doesn't matter to me really.
So you're saying we should buy a $25 PlayStation 1 for equal sound performance / quality to the ODAC and get a free DVD player and videogames?
Yes. Go do that right now! Have you read up on the PS1 1001? There's some radical claims about that SCPH-1001(version with RCA jacks). Not sure if it's really as good as they say it is. Sounds pretty good and i'll leave it at that. Both are just really smooth and musical sounding to my ears. None of that harsh treble like on my other CD players. Yes, from now on i'm going to call the ODAC warm and musical just to annoy people.
NOTE: sorry, the PS1 is CD only. I keep forgetting how old it is. It came out in 1995! Hard to believe. I still remember how when it came out everyone hated Sony because it required RCA cables which very few people had at the time!
Science guy here - re the last paragraph. The output of the ODAC has a fairly large capacitor to ground right on the output. Most of the difference between cables is due to capacitance (IMHO). This interacts with the output impedance of the DAC (or whatever) and can upset the output buffer to some extent. In the ODAC the capacitor swamps the cable capacitance in most cases so the cables all sound the same.
Thanks for that last post. I've also been convinced the only difference in how cables "sound" is due to capacitance too. I usually tend to avoid anything that's very high capacitance with warmer sounding headphones. Maybe this is why people love silver on the HD-650? It's probably ultra low capacitance. It's nice not having to bother with fancy cables on my ODAC. Not that I would..DIY ones are sometimes worthwhile. Of course i'm only talking about headphones cables and interconnects (not USB ones!).
I saw a PS1 with RCA jacks at my local goodwill, while scrounging for cheap-as-possible headphones to smash for an art project. Looked at the serial, it was the SCPH-1001 I'd read Art Dudley (I think) from Stereophile write about. I was curious...... but honestly, I only have about 10 CDs, mostly I have 256-bit AAC files (and videogames) and only buy CDs of my favourite albums. Since buying the Q701, this may change... though what I REALLY want with enough budget is a nice Vynl system. Meanwhile, the ODAC might be more wallet-friendly.
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